The Corner

Doc Obama’s Traveling Medicine Show

Seeing President Obama surrounded by little children, whom he apparently suffers to come unto him, I had a few questions.

First: I wonder whether the president will also surround himself with little children for whatever gruesome festivities he has planned for Tuesday. I rather doubt it.

Second: Why are Americans not embarrassed by this sort of thing?

You may agree 100 percent with the president’s position on gun control, but his stagey histrionics, his endless reliance upon human props, his cheap sloganeering, his emotionally driven hectoring: all of that bespeaks a very deep contempt for his audience, which is the American people. If he really believes that surrounding himself with adorable little tots is a substitute for substantive arguments for well-thought-out policy proposals, he thinks that the people — you people — are a bunch of rubes. Unhappily, 51 percent of the American people are happy to endorse his low view of them. There is something peculiar to political enthusiasts, a phenomenon I observed at both conventions this year: People in political audiences know that they are being manipulated, cynically and professionally — and they enjoy it. Obama’s admirers look up to him because he looks down on them, not in spite of the fact. There is something more at play than the mere admiration of stagecraft.

When George W. Bush landed on that aircraft carrier and popped out in a flight suit, it was a piece of self-conscious theater — and, Bush being Bush, slyly self-deprecating. Look at the goofy look on his face in the pictures: The grin is simultaneously hokey (“I know this is a silly stunt”) and cocky (“but I can fly the airplane, I did fly the airplane, and the troops love it.”) But here’s the thing about George W. Bush: He didn’t land on an aircraft carrier every damned day. If Bush’s landing on the Lincoln was a one-act play, Obama’s presidency is a never-ending piece of performance art, and a mediocre one at that. 

The presidency has been becoming more royal and ceremonial for years — see, for example, the ghastly, un-American, shameful, vulgar, cringe-inducing spectacle that is the State of the Union address. But Obama seems to have a full-time performing artist, the tireless Angela Lansbury of American politics.

I suspect that this is an outgrowth of the fact that he simply never stops campaigning. The campaign is long over, but I still get a solicitation for Democratic donations every single day. (I do not remember when I last saw an RNC solicitation.) The DSCC solicitations are particularly embarrassing affairs: Al Franken writing an email with the subject line: “Your guest bedroom.” (Really, no, thanks, Senator Franken.) Jason Rosenbaum with the “electrifying news” that “we’re giving our supporters an opportunity to enter the Grand Inaugural Contest FOR FREE—just until midnight tonight!” Guy Cecil: “It’s Michelle’s birthday!” Particularly creepy are the Democratic solicitations dressed up as bill-collection notices: “FINAL STATEMENT: We saw that you haven’t yet made a contribution (we’ve pasted your record below). Supporter record: 17113135. 2012 online support: PendingSuggested support: $5” That “supporter record” and serial number is an especially nasty touch: “Yeah, we’re keeping score. Just so you know.” I assume from the Democrats’ financial statements that this sort of thing works. Some people enjoy being manipulated.

The magic of theater is that is has the power to overwhelm thought: For a moment, you forget that you are watching actors reciting lines that they have memorized and making scripted movements, and you are taken into the world of the play. Obama’s politics of histrionics — the little children, the Sandra Flukes, the imperial stage dressing — also is conceived with the goal of overwhelming thought. That tells you something about the president and what he stands for. The continued success of this traveling medicine show of a presidency tells you something about the American people.


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